Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Preparing schools for the national sell-off

I wouldnt want to accuse Michael Gove of hypocrisy or double standards. People do change their views, particularly over a span of years that amounts to half their lifetime. Tony Blair, after all, started out claiming to be a socialist. 
It’s interesting, all the same, to recall the four-month strike by journalists at the Aberdeen Journal in 1989-90. The bitter dispute was over the company’s refusal to go on recognising the National Union of Journalists.
There are a few surviving photographs of the NUJ picket line outside the paper’s offices. And in one of them, grinning inanely under a mop of curly hair, is an ardent young Michael Gove.
Union member, striker, picket. And the very chap now leading an all-out assault on the teaching profession.
The chap who refuses to listen to the teaching unions.
The same chap who claims to be worried that British teachers are not “held in the same high esteem” as those in other countries.
And that taking part in strike action will undermine the respect they do have.
Teachers across Norfolk were out on strike yesterday – which ought to increase, not lessen, your respect for them.
Teachers don’t take strike action without good cause or a lot of soul-searching.
The vast majority are dedicated professionals who wish to give their pupils the best education possible. Frankly, they wouldn’t do the job if they didn’t care deeply.
Some people imagine teachers have an easy life. Short days, long holidays. It’s what Michael Gove seems to think. But what does he know?
I’ve spoken lately to a few people who have re-trained to become teachers after having other jobs – in journalism, industry, publishing and business. They’ve all said the same thing: that they work longer hours and suffer more stress as teachers than they did in their previous careers.
It’s a matter of professional integrity – as is the decision by the two biggest teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, to hold yesterday’s strike across the Eastern region.
It is well put in a letter sent out by union members to the parents of pupils at my daughter’s school: “We do not take the decision to strike lightly and it is only ever a last resort. We always endeavour to put the students first – it is the reason we came into this profession – but we are concerned that the changes proposed by the current government affect the whole professionalism of teaching and therefore the effective provision of education to those students.
“Teachers who strike will lose a day’s pay and will not be financially reimbursed. However, we feel strongly that the current attacks on teaching pay, pensions and conditions are worth standing up for.
“We feel that it is necessary to take this stand to ensure the preservation of the education service for all.
“We are only able to strike legally on the issue of ‘pay, pensions and conditions’, but our grievances run much further and deeper.”
Headline issues include the workload of teachers burdened by ever greater levels of pointless bureaucracy; cuts to their pensions, along with increases in the contributions they must make, amounting effectively to cuts in pay; and job cuts.
Gove wants teachers to work longer for less.
He is causing chaos by rushing through a new curriculum which those who know believe will harm, not improve, our children’s education.
Crucially, he no longer requires teachers to be qualified – a regressive move that can only undermine their professional status and lead to poorer teaching.
The unions don’t say it in so many words, but these changes and others made by Gove – such as the creation of so-called “free schools” – all point to an underlying agenda.
That, just as with other vital services, the government is preparing our whole school system for privatisation.
Flogging off our kids’ education to make profit for private companies. Which is frankly despicable.


The International Trade Union Confederation represents 174million workers in 156 countries, which makes it a rather bigger and – dare one suggest – more important organisation than FIFA, which is merely the world governing body of football.
The ITUC says labour conditions in Qatar are so appalling that thousands of migrant workers could die building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
“More than 4,000 workers risk losing their life over the next seven years as construction for World Cup facilities gets under way,” according to ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow.
Which should matter more to FIFA than the commercial considerations of sponsors or the requirements of Fox TV.
More even, you might think, than the potentially deadly temperatures the world’s finest footballers will have to endure if the World Cup goes ahead in a Qatari summer.
Which itself was only one of the reasons FIFA should never have handed the tournament to a country less than twice the size of Norwich and with no football tradition.
They should now admit their mistake pronto and move the finals, not to winter (a relative term in the sub-tropical Gulf) but to a more suitable venue.

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